Vicariously Speaking stems from letters that Know Hope has been receiving from inmates on death row in Nashville, TN. He used snippets of their words, re-wrote them in his own distinctive handwriting, and had the messages installed as a series of eight billboards as part of Nashville’s Oz Art Fest. It’s a beautiful series.
The question of power comes up though. The title of the project acknowledges its own possible imperfections. Does Vicariously Speaking give voice to people who are incarcerated, or does it exploit them as Know Hope takes their words and puts them in his voice? Power relationships between artists and their collaborators and subjects are always complicated, but it’s not like Know Hope surprised the letter writers with the billboards. Know Hope is a poet, and the people writing to him agreed to have their words re-framed as poetry and visual art, something that arts festivals are more used to providing funding for than some variation on the project where the speaking isn’t so secondhand.
Presumably, due to Oz Arts’ marketing efforts, at least some of the people who saw the billboards knew the story behind them. But of course most people didn’t. And there’s a beauty in that ambiguity. Maybe one of these mysterious billboards particularly touches you, so you want to find out more about it, and it’s only later that you hear the backstory, if you hear about it at all.
We are fundamentally and intentionally disconnected from the incarcerated population, so these billboards are a little bit magical. As Know Hope puts it, the billboards are a link “between two separate realities.”
In you’re in Nashville, photos of the billboards are on display alongside the original letters at Oz Arts‘ space through the end of August.
One of the most common questions I get from people outside of the street art world is some variation on “How do street artists show in galleries?”
My 30-second answer is that just as painters can sculpt and illustrators can take photos, artists aren’t restricted to just one way of displaying their work. I tell them that street artists often have a studio practice too. I tell them that what the street/studio combination looks like can vary, but sometimes the two can feed off of one another in a brilliant synergy.
That’s a best-case scenario though, overly optimistic, which is fine when I’m being an evangelist for street art, but not quite suitable for a conversation among the already converted. We all know that the reality isn’t so cut and dry. What works for street art, what works for murals, and what works in a gallery setting are rarely the same.
So how do you find that synergy between street and studio? I don’t have a great catchall answer, but I do have a recent example of someone getting it right.
Taking Sides, a new series from Know Hope, is one of a handful examples that I can think of where documentation of street art actually works as a piece in a gallery. It reaches a rare and coveted level of synergy between street and studio practice. For Taking Sides, Know Hope created a series of subtle street pieces in Cologne, Germany and photographed them at just the right moment. In the gallery, he paired each photo with one of the more “typical” studio works that he is best known for. As street pieces, they are solid. As photographs, they take on a new dimension. Paired with paintings, each piece in the pairing informs the other.
This approach won’t always work. That synergy isn’t as simple as putting some photos in a gallery. A photo of a mural next to a print based on that mural is going in the exact wrong direction, even though that seems to be how a lot of art is sold. It works for Know Hope (and also Barry McGee) because the photos capture something that their paintings and drawings can’t, and vice versa. That’s the key. And while I’m focusing on Know Hope today and it’s still not a catchall answer, it remains true even if the street and studio pieces aren’t literally exhibited side by side.
About two years ago, a group got together to take over about 50 billboards throughout the UK in the course of a few days. It was the Brandalism project. And they are back. Last month, Brandalism brought together the work of 40 artists, including a few very big names, to replace 365 bus-shelter ads in 10 UK cities. The results are beautiful and impressive. Here are a few of my favorites (okay, it’s a lot, because there’s a lot of great work in this project):
These images were taken over the past 6 months while I got to know the Woodstock Community and explored the explosion of new work by local and international artists. During my many visits I was welcomed by the kind majority-Muslim community, they commissioned me to do work for them and I shared many fond experiences (except for when my original custom made RETNA Art iPhone grew legs while painting a mural). I was able to freely document their lives and unique area; I even shot portraits of a small child that ended up being used for a piece I had done by my friend from Durban Pastel.
Over the past few years the level of work and roster of international artist has risen dramatically. Woodstock will soon become Cape Towns ONLY area filled with creative public expression. I believe in and support the beautification of urban areas like this and others around the world.
Had a quick holiday in New York City combined with a nasty cold to delay posting this link-o-rama, but I’m back so here we go…
Dave aka nolionsinengland has been a friend and also one of my favorite street art/graffiti photographers for many years now. I’m very excited to see that he’s now offering street art tours of London in addition to his street art photography workshops. There aren’t too many people who can take me on a graffiti or street art tour of London, but Dave has shown me around before and he still schools me every time we meet up. This guy knows his stuff, and regular reads of this site have seen his photos on here for years. I haven’t taken this tour of course, but from every experience I’ve had with Dave over the past 5 or so years, I cannot recommend him highly enough.
Banksy’s No Ball Games street piece in London has been removed from the wall and is due to be sold next year. The profits from the sale will be going to charity, but I’m curious if that means the profits for person who owns the wall, or if the group organizing the removal and sale are also forgoing any profits. The company that removed this wall is the same one that managed the sale of Banksy’s Slave Labour street piece earlier this year.
Faile are on the cover of the latest issue of Very Nearly Almost, so there will be launch events in both NYC and London. The NYC launch is July 31st at Reed Projects and the London launch will be 8th August at Lazarides.
Remi/Rough recently put together a book of sketches that you can read online. Most artists who have met me know that I’m always carrying around a blackbook, and that I love to collect sketches, so this project of Remi’s was a real joy for me. It’s really fascinating to see what’s going on behind the scenes with this work.
Caroline and I went to this show in Brooklyn on Saturday night. I was really impressed with EKG’s drawings. A few of them definitely reminded me of Rammellzee. Col’s screenprints on wood were also interesting as a change of pace for someone who I’ve always known as a master with spray can.
Sorry for all the downtime on Vandalog this week. I dunno what’s up with Vandalog’s web host. If you have suggestions of a good web host that I could move to (even though I just switched to Gandi), let me know. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading:
A bit late on this one, but tonight the shop/gallery/bookstore Needles and Pens celebrated 10 years of existence with a huge show at The Luggage Store in San Fransisco including work by Know Hope, Deuce Seven, Pez, and so many other talented artists. Luckily, the show is on through June 8th.
Things Left Standing Behind is the second part of Know Hope‘s two-part series of solo shows at Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv. If you missed Things Standing Between, the first show in the series, we posted photos last week. Things Left Standing Behind is open now and runs through April 6th. For those of us not in Tel Aviv, Know Hope sent over these photos of the show.
One of the reasons I really love Know Hope’s artwork is that I find individual works interesting and precious, but taken as a whole, his overall body of work has a lot of depth to it too, a balance that I sometimes fear is missing with a lot of street artists. These two shows really exemplify that. The first primarily consisted of illustrative paintings and drawings hung on the walls of the gallery, while this part of the show continues the same narrative but centers on an installation titled The Tangled Hollow. Both shows dealt with the idea of fences and walls (things that stand between). Know Hope explained that the wall that makes of The Tangled Hollow is meant to have been constructed by the tree stumps in the center of the wall, which have now been cut down to nothing as a result of building the wall. So what does the wall protect now? Nothing except an idea of what once was. The paintings on the wall are whitewashed so that images only barely show through, like memories of events that were portrayed in the first part of the show.
Know Hope is currently half-way through a two-part solo show at Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv. Here, I’ve got photos of Things That Stand Between, the first part of this show which opened at the end of February. The second part, Things Left Standing Behind, opens today (Thursday) at 7:30pm. As I understand it, this second part of the show will involve a complete reinstallation of different work in the gallery.
Beginning in late December of 2012 and stretching into the new year, Freddy Sam brought together a group of artists known for creating art that engages their surroundings. The project, titled Acrylic Walls, is associated with his organization A Word of Art, which has been fostering contemporary art in the area through community outreach since 2009. While this project has the familiar ring of other blockbuster mural programs, such as Open Walls Baltimore, Freddy Sam has added a component that hopes to reach a larger audience than those who will immediately come into contact with their murals: a diary-like Tumblr for all on which all of the artists can contribute.
The Tumblr for Acrylic Walls allows all of the participating artists to post photos from their adventures as they travel from city to city painting and engage themselves with their surroundings. Whether they are recounting adventures in stick and poke tattoos, museums, or sharing stories of people they encounter, each artist brings a dimensionality to not only themselves, but this program through their photography. By sharing funny moments alongside those of poverty and historicism, Acrylic Walls gives an intimate and insightful view of personalities of the artists as well as the cities where they find themselves.